Congress Uses Commemorative Coins to Circumvent Earmark Ban
Lachlan Markay /
Congress may have halted all official earmarks, but lawmakers have found other ways to steer pork to pet projects in their districts. One of the more creative methods is the authorization of commemorative coins.
The use of commemorative coins to steer money to pet projects is nothing new, as Heritage Action’s Ashe Schow noted this morning. From 1982 to 2009, the U.S. Mint has produced 92 such coins – a rate of 3.4 coins per year. But the 112th Congress alone has introduced 14 commemorative coin bills, a significant uptick.
Here’s how it works: In June of last year, Rep. Peter Roksam (R-IL) introduced legislation authorizing a commemorative coin honoring the Lions Club, a service organization based in Oak Brook, IL – part of Roksam’s district.
The legislation dictates that proceeds from the coin sales be used to pay for the cost of producing the coins, but adds: “all surcharges received by the Secretary from the sale of coins issued under this Act shall be promptly paid by the Secretary to the Lions Clubs International Foundation for the purposes.”
In other words, assuming the costs of production are covered, the legislation will steer federal funds to an organization in Roksam’s home district. No earmarks required.
Congress has considered numerous commemorative coin bills since the earmark ban went into effect. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) established a coin for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, which sits in his district. Rep. James Renacci (R-OH) introduced similar legislation for the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, a town he represents.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) introduced the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act, which would steer a quarter of the surcharges to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in his district. Another quarter would go to the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT, represented by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
From Mothers Day to the National Future Farmers of America, a host of causes have earned commemorative coin legislation during the 112th Congress, while anti-earmark deficit hawks have cried foul on the effort.
“For all intents and purposes, this is an earmark,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) in reference to the Baseball Hall of Fame bill. “And it’s far beyond the proper scope of the federal government to act as a sales agent for a private group.” Amash elaborated his objections in an appearance at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday: